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Former US Olympic gymnast trains youth athletes in NC

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TROUTMAN, N.C.--Many gymnasts right here in North Carolina are receiving their training from a former U.S. Olympic gymnast, who's still involved with the team.

Kristie Phillips Athletic Center is located in Troutman in Iredell County, and the former Olympian and her students have been anxiously awaiting this year's competition.

"I think it's just pretty awesome, just watching them walk out with the flowers,” said Alyssa Stepanek, a seven-year-old gymnast.

"Really excited. I can't wait to see them compete!" said 13-year-old Murphy Smith, who's been doing gymnastics for about 10 years.

But in their presence already is a former U.S. Olympic gymnast, their current coach, Kristie Phillips-Bannister.

"I was an alternate on the 1988 Olympic team, and I was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1986,” said Phillips-Bannister.

Phillips-Bannister began gymnastics at four-years-old, and at age 16, was selected to be an Olympic alternate and trained for eight to 10 hours a day with the team.

"Major commitment, major physical exertion, mental exertion, just the amount of discipline that the sport teaches is second to none,” said Phillips-Bannister.

This year, she judged the Olympic trials, and she says the changes to the sport over the past two decades is much better for the athletes.

"I think it's better that we can take some individualists as well as all-arounders because then you're putting up the best athletes, which is what the Olympics is all about,” said Phillips-Bannister.

But she wants her own athletes to learn that the sport offers so much more than the Olympics, but lifelong skills.

"I'm hoping when they're watching the Olympics, they're not discouraged from being the best they can be, but they realize within themselves they have their own maximum potential, and that's what we're trying to reach here,” said Phillips-Bannister.

Skills the students see both in the Olympians, and themselves.

"It's taught me discipline a lot, and respect, and also communication between everybody and my coaches,” said Smith.

"Yeah, they're just amazing! I just can't stand not watching them,” said Stapanek.

Phillips-Bannister says she hopes the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team comes home with a gold, because she says she knows first-hand all of the hard work, dedication and sacrifices they've put into it, and she says she knows they can do it.

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